A Wellington City councillor has suggested dumping one million litres of sludge a day into Cook Strait to cut costs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Greater Wellington Regional Council has already tipped cold water on the proposal with its chairman making it clear the organisation does not play favourites for resource consents.
In January two pipelines failed in a wastewater tunnel beneath Mt Albert in Wellington.
That has resulted in more than a million litres of sludge being transported every day by truck from the Capital's Moa Point Treatment Plant and the landfill at Carey's Gully until the pipeline can be repaired.
The operations costs a whopping $680,000 per week, or almost $3 million per month.
If the trucking operation wasn't doing the work of the broken pipeline, sludge would be flowing directly into the Cook Strait.
Wellington Water has gone to great pains the past few months to point out that option is unacceptable to people in this day and age.
But then coronavirus came to the country's shores.
The council is facing a $70 million shortfall for the 2020/21 year as its revenue streams from the likes of parking and swimming pools dry up.
In a leaked email to councillors, councillor Sean Rush raised the option of reinstating an outfall from Moa Point to deposit treated wastewater into the Cook Strait.
"There is an alternative – not one that I would normally support but given the times we are in, tough choices need to be made and I think it only fair to raise this with you," the Three Waters portfolio leader told his colleagues.
But regional council chairman Daran Ponter said the city council would not be getting a "free pass".
He said the city council's resource consent allowed for the discharge of sewage into the Cook Strait in an emergency.
"There is no emergency here. Wellington City Council has a perfectly good workaround – involving trucking sewage sludge to the landfill.
"I acknowledge that this is costly and that the lockdown is contributing to delays, but this does not warrant reaching for the release valve", Ponter said.
The sludge trucking operating was meant to be a stopgap until the pipeline underneath Mt Albert could be fixed, but Covid-19 has held up that too.
To repair the problem, a polyester woven liner has to be winched from one end of each pipe to the other, then expanded to essentially act as a new pipeline within the old one.
But Wellington Water chief executive Colin Crampton said last month that due to restrictions on business imposed this week by the German government, delivery of the liners by the supplier has been pushed back.
Rush said in the leaked email chain this delay could last many months to come.
"Maybe even as long as it takes for a vaccine to be developed, with the consequential expense draining our finances."
Rush said the outfall pipe could be activated "fairly readily" and he understood the treated stream was not harmful to the environment.
"There are no solids (paper, sanitary pads, needles) or visible excrement. Rather it is discoloured water containing organic waste. I understand this solution is still better practice than what some other councils do."
Rush also raised concerns about sludge needing to be mixed with other waste to meet resource consent requirements.
Rock and dirt was now being used for the mix because there was very little waste coming into the landfill, which used more space and therefore also impacted revenue, he said.
It's understood Rush has had preliminary discussions with Mana Whenua, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington Water about the proposal.
Rush sent the email ahead of a workshop on Thursday between the council's executive leadership team and all councillors regarding the state of the organisation's finances and its emergency and pandemic response plans.
"Nothing is free nor can we subsidise residents/businesses forever. But we can do more, for longer, for more people if we can save from elsewhere in the business", Rush said.
Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons told the Herald it was a backwards step and Wellington had moved on from the approach a long time ago.
"I'm worried the environment is being sacrificed for short-term gain and I'm not standing for it and I'm totally opposed to it."
Lambton Ward councillor Iona Pannett was also not in favour of the suggestion and said Wellingtonians would not be impressed by the idea especially when they're trying to clean up the waterways.
"I don't support it. I'm an environmentalist and we need to support our environment."
Pannett said they were other ways of saving money, including a suggestion from her to cut the subsidy for airlines that fly to Wellington.